Côte d'Ivoire

Ivory Coast factions still at loggerheads

By Matthew Bigg and Kwaku Sakyi-Addo

ACCRA, March 7 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's rebels and feuding politicians resume talks on Friday in Ghana to form a coalition government after late-night wrangling failed to break the deadlock.

A draft deal to end five months of civil war in the West African country has been prepared by negotiators in Ghana's capital Accra but the attribution of key cabinet posts remains a stumbling block.

"The rebels and the new forces have agreed that in the interest of peace they are prepared to let go of the defence and interior portfolios, provided they are given something reasonable," Ghana's Foreign Minister Hackman Owusu-Agyeman said after the talks wrapped up in the early hours of Friday.

Negotiators tussled over the wording of the draft plan before finally calling a halt to the talks, which will resume at midday (1200 GMT) on Friday.

Civil war broke out in September after a failed coup against President Laurent Gbagbo. Well-armed rebels now control northern and western parts of the world's biggest cocoa producer.

The rebels have been pushing for the defence and interior ministries, saying that was promised in a French-brokered peace deal but Gbagbo and the army have balked at the idea.

The draft deal seen by Reuters moots a national security council to manage defence and security issues, made up of all political parties and rebel groups who signed the Paris deal.

Anti-French riots erupted in the commercial capital Abidjan in late January after reports of the Paris ministerial deal and Gbagbo's hardline supporters remain hostile to rebels in charge of the police and army.


More than 3,000 French troops are policing a shaky ceasefire line between rebels and loyalists. Worried about regional stability, West African army chiefs called for a three-fold increase in the size of their peacekeeping force to 3,400 men.

Several thousand people have been killed. According to the United Nations, some 400,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries and as many as 800,000 are internally displaced.

Mediators say the rebels are now prepared to at least drop the defence ministry, but the insurgents do not want Gbagbo to get his hands on the strategic post. They also insist new prime minister Seydou Diarra be given more power.

Mediators say Gbagbo's party is resisting the idea of the national security council in the draft plan, which outlines a government made up of 36 ministries.

Calls for a deal in Ghana from the international community and regional leaders have been growing and the United States chipped in on Thursday saying the "task is urgent".

"Time is running out in Ivory Coast. The economy is in rapid decline. Large areas of the country are without effective governance," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said. "No winners will emerge if Ivory Coast slides into civil war."


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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